Salsa Garden

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Salsa Garden

We like it spicy.

We like it hot. Only a generation ago, Americans favored ketchup over any other condiment, but now salsa outsells ketchup in dollars if not in volume. Shopping at the grocery store, it’s plain to see. The salsa aisle rocks with a beat all its own. There are green salsas with tomatillos and serrano chilis.

Red salsas, with the first ingredient usually tomatoes, and the rest limited only by your imagination. Salsas made with beans, corn, peppers, cilantro, onions and even pineapple! Most salsa ingredients can be easily grown throughout the southern U.S. although cilantro will bolt come summer. I usually grow a bit of cilantro early for other dishes, but I’ve decided it’s an ingredient I can buy at the store the rest of the time.

I’m fortunate to live in Oklahoma where Hispanic communities have immigrated from throughout Mexico and South and Central America. Like all immigrants who came before, they enrich our society, bringing their culture and the best of their native cuisine.

Garden Salsa peppers

When I was a child, all Mexican food was Tex-Mex, based in chili con carne and topped with cheese. I still love it, but now, being gluten and casein (dairy protein) intolerant, I’m especially grateful for recipes from central Mexico and its coastal plains, not to mention Peruvian, Cuban and Guatemalan cuisines.If you love salsa as much as I, growing the ingredients yourself is nearly as much fun as eating it. What would you plant in your salsa garden?

•Vine-ripened tomatoes, dripping with sweetness and with just a bite of acidity.

•Peppers, both hot and mild. I like bulky salsa cruda or picante, with larger chunks instead of blended, so I grow some mild peppers like Pasilla Bajo, the mild chili used in mole sauce which has a somewhat sweet and smoky flavor, along with Douce D’Espagne, a pimiento type, to give it some bulk. I enjoy my salsa medium to pretty hot, but not all of my family does. Placed far from the sweet peppers, I grow jalepeno, Caribbean Red habanero and serrano chilis. When using these hotties in a recipe, I taste the dish as I go. Remember, there is more heat in the seeds than the flesh of the pepper, and closer you get to the seeds, the flesh is hotter.

•Onions? You must have onions. What is salsa without the crisp texture and intense flavor of onion?

•What about peaches? What if you placed a peach tree in the middle of your salsa garden? Salsa ingredients don’t all need to be savory. A sweet note is a very good thing especially in salsa that is hotter.

How about a stand of corn as the backdrop? You need at least four rows or blocks of four feet by four feet for corn to self-pollinate from the tassels to the silks of the ears. Still, if you love sweet corn in salsa or out, it is worth the extra trouble and space. I’ve even seen corn grown in containers before, but I’ve had better luck planting in the ground.

My ideal salsa garden is full of purple tomatillos for salsa verde, onions, tomatoes, corn and even a peach tree. Peaches are self-fertile, so you only need one. If you have the space you can also add beans like Huerto Pinto to your design.

Some like it hot. I know I do. Plant a salsa garden and add a little spice to your life. Picked at their peak, your vegetables will shame the competition, and you’ll become known for your salsa and perhaps your garden too.